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Required Movie: The Impact of Animal Agriculture Discussion Board (COWspiracy, 1 hour, 29 min)

Make sure to read the questions first and write down the times when these points are discussed in case you need to hear those parts again

Link for the video:


Scientists have studied the impacts of burning fossil fuels as the primary cause of Climate Change for a long time now and the impacts of these emissions are well defined and widely accepted.  But a second critical impact to Climate Change is starting to get noticed.  There is ongoing debate about the exact percentage of animal agriculture on climate change, but the impact is significant and on a personal level it could be one of the simplest ways to make an impact against Climate Change.

This assignment is based on the documentary “COWspiracy – The Sustainability Secret”.  The documentary follows Kip and Keenan as they discover that animal agriculture is a significant contributor to Climate Change but nobody is talking about it.  The movie was originally a small Indie film getting little interest, until Leonardo DiCaprio happened upon it.  He found in the movie a message that needed to be shared with the largest audience possible, so he became Executive Producer and helped get the movie on Netflix where it can now be seen around the world.

Read through the assignment carefully before watching the videos and movie, so you can focus on the information you will need to respond to the questions.  If possible, complete Part I before watching the movie.  The movie is required to watch as part of the assignment, however if you choose not to watch it you may complete Parts I, III, and IV and receive partial credit.

PART I:  Introduction (6 pts)

As an introduction for this assignment, watch the short video “What if Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef?” about how to reduce one’s personal carbon footprint.  Then check out and respond to the three additional items below.

Here is the link. (Links to an external site.)

1. What are your initial thoughts on the first video and on the topic of the impact of animal agriculture on Climate Change?  Note that other alternatives could be used instead of beans. (50-100 words minimum)

2. There is a population crisis – but probably not the one you think (Monbiot, G. 2015).  To see this, search the internet and use approximate numbers where needed.

a. How many people are there in the world?  What does the average person weigh?  Multiply the two numbers and get the total weight of people in the world?

b. How many cows are there in the world?  What does the average cow weigh?  Multiply the two numbers and get the total weight of cows in the world?

c. Compare the total weight of people in the world and the total weight of cows in the world, if you are not sure of your numbers, compare with a fellow classmate.  What are your thoughts on this comparison?

d. To meet growing demands for beef and dairy around the world, the cow population is predicted to grow significantly faster than the human population is growing (Monbiot, G. 2015).  Discuss your thoughts on the different ways the growing cow population will impact the earth.  (50-100 words minimum)

Here is the Link:

3. Read and consider Paul Hawken’s short overview on a “Plant-Rich Diet” and answer the following questions.  (Links to an external site.)

a. What is the amount of global emissions attributed to a meat-centric Western Diet?

b. If cattle were their own nation, what number would they rank for world emissions?

4. Factory food production has become very large scale. Following is a short 6-minute “Samsara” food sequence video that gives a glimpse into the current scale of factory food production.  Discuss two things that struck you most.  (“Samsara” can be described as a cycle from beginning to end.)

Note: Although the filming is an artistic representation of mass food production in our culture, the video does contain graphic filming of animals in factory food production and may be uncomfortable viewing, therefore it is not required to watch. Extra Credit of 2 pts is given for a response to this.

Here is the Link:

PART II:  COWspiracy – The Sustainability Secret (10 pts)

Watch the movie at the link at the start of the assignment.  Watch with a friend or group if possible.  Do not guess at these answers if you did not watch the movie as this will be obvious and we will not be able to give you credit for this section.

1.  Discussing the Impact on Climate Change:  List three different organizations that weren’t interested in discussing the Impact of Animal Agriculture on Climate Change.  Do you think there was a conspiracy when they wouldn’t discuss this topic, or do you think there might have been other reasons? (Note that many of these organizations are now discussing this topic since the movie was released.)

2.  Destruction of Rainforests:  Rainforests are critical to removing carbon from the atmosphere.  From the movie, what % of rainforests is being destroyed by slash and burn agriculture to raise cattle and to grow feed crops for cattle?

3.  Scarce Water Resources:  Freshwater resources are critical for many parts of human society.  From the movie, how many gallons of water are required to produce 1 lb. of beef?  Discuss three reasons why this much water is needed.

4.  Movie Review:  After completing the Part 1 Introduction and watching the movie COWspiracy, what are your thoughts on animal agriculture and the related impacts on climate change?  Do you think this subject is too personal to discuss?  What are your thoughts on if or how our culture could make changes as a result of this information?  There are no wrong answers. (100-200 words minimum)

PART III:  Is Reducing Consumption of Animal Products Healthy? (4 pts)

This part of the assignment is to provide a short background that eating a plant-based diet and reducing animal products, while being healthy for the planet, can also be a healthy option for people.  Provide responses to the following two topics.

1. Plant Based Athletes:  To recover faster and stay competitive as they age, many athletes are moving toward plant-based diets in many sports, even sports such as Mixed Martial Arts, 100 Mile Ultramarathons, and the NFL and NBA.  In fact, the NBA may be the sport where players are embracing plant-based diets the fastest! (

(Links to an external site.)).

Name 3 plant-based athletes in 3 different sports of your choice and a short description of what they have accomplished.  If you don’t follow sports, you can select from the following athletes. (You would find it interesting to read about each of these athletes.)

Scott Jurek/UltraMarathoner, Venus Williams/Tennis, Alex Honnold/Rock Climber, Heather Mills/Skier,

Tom Brady/Football, Fiona Oakes/Marathoner, Carl Lewis/Sprinter, Leilani Munter/Race Car Driver,

Patrik Babaumian/Strongman, and Ruth Heidrich/Ironman Triathlete.

Note:  If this subject interests you, there is a new movie by James Cameron coming out Sept. 16 on the topic:

(Links to an external site.)

2. The Blue Zones:  In 2005, National Geographic published an article “The Secrets of a Long Life” (

(Links to an external site.)).  Provide responses for the following:

a. What are the “Blue Zones” referenced in the article? (search the internet for “Blue Zones” to find the answers)

b. What are the longevity diets in the Blue Zones? (search the internet for “Blue Zones longevity diets” to find the answers)

c. Discuss how changing to a Blue Zone longevity diet could impact climate change? (50-100 words minimum)

PART IV: How much would reducing meat consumption lower your Carbon Footprint (6 pts)?

The Cowspiracy documentary refers to a non-peer reviewed article claiming 51% of climate change is caused by animal agriculture (Goodland and AnHang 2009).  A review of all of the research currently available shows the impact to range from a low of 9% if you consider the US only (EPA 2017 (Links to an external site.)), to 14.5% for the world (FAO 2013) to the mentioned high of 51% in this one paper and the movie. Keep watching as this area of research develops.  Scott Kruis, the TA for this class, is working on this for his PhD so has lots of insight if you would like to talk with him more about this.

Regardless of this final percentage for impacts, on an individual basis reducing your meat intake may be one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint.  Use the OSU Carbon Footprint Calculator

(Links to an external site.) to assess your individual C footprint and how it would change if you ate less meat compared to if you made at least one other change.

  1. a. Original Footprint,  b. Footprint without meat;  c. Footprint without some other factor (driving, flying, other).
  • Discuss these results


1.  Remember to use separate paragraphs for each of the points listed above.

2.  Remember to follow the Discussion Board Rubric in the three dots on the upper right to make sure you get all points.

Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, perhaps said it best:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.


1. For those interested in additional information on a healthy diet, these are three good films to start with:

“Forks Over Knives” – by C. Esselstyn & T. Colin Campbell

“What the Health” – also by Kip and Keenan, their next movie after COWspiracy!

Michael Greger’s annual speech on NutritionFacts.Org.

2. For those interested in books, these are two good books to start with:

Colin Campbell – “The China Study”

John Robbins – “The Food Revolution”

3. For those who would like to listen to podcasts with Kip and Keenan and learn more about the making of “COWspiracy”, listen to Kip and Keenan on these Rich Roll podcasts.

(Links to an external site.)

(Links to an external site.)

REFERENCES (Links to an external site.)

Monbiot, G. 2015. There’s a population crisis all right. But probably not the one you think. Available from (Links to an external site.)

Goodland, R. and AnHang J. 2009. Livestock and Climate Change. Available from (Links to an external site.)

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) 2013. Tackling Climate Change through Livestock. Available from (Links to an external site.)

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